Legal Business Blogs

Eyes on the prize: RFU to commence first law firm panel overhaul in six years

The Rugby Football Union (RFU)’s legal spend may be overshadowed by the majority of City clients but the prestige of advising a major sporting body means sports practices in the City are likely to be lining up when it launches its first panel review in over six years.

The review, which will be led by recently-promoted head of legal Angus Bujalski, will take place soon after the RFU has completed the hire of an additional commercial lawyer to its team. Bujalski took over as head of legal in November after previous incumbent Polly Handford left for sports boutique Couchmans.

The RFU last conducted a law firm panel review in 2007 and general counsel Karena Vleck told Legal Business: ‘We plan to do it this year, to see whether and how we should refine it.’

The governing body principally instructs Wragge & Co, Onside Law, Bird & Bird and DLA Piper, as well as Vleck’s former firm, Farrer & Co. However, Slaughter and May’s corporate veteran Nigel Boardman wrote an extensive review of its corporate governance structures in 2011, with proposals on the relationship between board and council finally expected to be agreed this year.

Boardman’s circa £25,000 report was worthwhile to add weight to proposals for changes in the balance of power in an organisation that has to date been resistant to modernisation, although the Magic Circle firm is not typically instructed on day-to-day matters.

According to Vleck, the organisation also often goes direct to counsel for an opinion on straightforward issues. Preferred sets include Blackstone Chambers, which acted in the successful but long-running dispute with online ticket broker viagogo, led at the Supreme Court stage by Lord Pannick QC and barrister James Segan.

Other firms with leading sports practices in The Legal 500 include Brabners, Charles Russell, Couchmans, Harbottle & Lewis, Pinsent Masons, Sheridans and Squire Sanders.

Rugby has been high on the sports agenda recently in light of the Six Nations 2014, and that can be expected to continue as England and Wales hosts the Rugby World Cup (RWC) next year. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer corporate partner and former City head Tim Jones was appointed last November as general counsel of England Rugby 2015, the new subsidiary set up as a procurement vehicle for the tournament, while Clifford Chance was appointed as the official law firm to the RWC after a successful pitch last year.